Response to Simon Faulkner, ‘Constructing Pallywood: Photography, veracity, and denigration in Israel/Palestine’
by Mara Sprengel
29 May 2016
The built environment of Israel sustains the Occupation of Palestine physically and ideologically. It ensures that the Israeli gaze is redirected or interrupted via a series of physical structures and mechanisms of control, manifestations of Occupation which seek to ensure Palestinian in/visibility. Hilltop settlements survey a subjugated landscape, the Separation Wall slices through urban and rural space, and roads, underpasses and bridges facilitate Israeli movement. Meanwhile the Palestinian gaze is focussed absolutely on the Occupation, recording and witnessing, and, potentially, resisting. By manipulating visibility through the considered organisation of space, a hierarchy of visuality is created and maintained, one which controls who and what can and should be seen by whom. Subject to the militarised gaze of the Israeli Defence Force (IDF), placed under surveillance with their movement and visibility closely monitored, the Palestinian population of the Occupied Territories become hyper-visible however, paradoxically, they are visibly absent from the day-to-day lives of the Israeli population. In Visual Occupations (2015), Gil Z. Hochberg refers to this as Palestinian ‘visible invisibility.’1 This paradox of Palestinian visibility privileges Israeli experience, allowing an imbalance. Whilst Palestinians endure significant exposure to the Occupation, it is largely concealed from the Israeli population, which in turn reinforces Israeli public opinion which is already influenced by an increasingly oppressive mainstream media.
Simon Faulkner discussed a number of artistic and photographic projects which explore, expose and attempt to reframe the politics of in/visibility at play in Israel/Palestine. Focussing on the Activestills collective, a group of Israeli, Palestinian and international photographers who ‘believe in the power of images to shape public attitudes’ and seek to ‘raise awareness on issues that are generally absent from public discourse’ the talk enabled a consideration of visual rights and the ways in which these maintain the Occupation.2 The street exhibition projects undertaken by Activestills attempt to promote interaction between two polarised populations that are deliberately segregated and in doing so aim to challenge both nationalist ideologies and ways of seeing. Photographs of Palestinian experiences of the Occupation are presented in either public spaces or inside institutions such as colleges, thus enabling a hyper-visible representation of the dangerous ‘other.’ Visual images are presented on paper which renders the projects participatory, the impermanence of the material inviting viewers to deface, destroy or even remove the works. Activestills have found that the reception of their projects varies greatly. Reactions are often violent and confrontational, indicating the emotive power of the visual image to illicit immediate reaction. The images are sometimes considered an affront to Israel, or even, where the photographer is Israeli, as unpatriotic or as an act of treason. Some viewers deny their ‘truthfulness’ and accuse the photographers of falsifying or manipulating their images (and of course, as much as a photographer attempts to maintain impartiality, they are always subject to the potential of bias) whereas some viewers wanted to engage further and to open a dialogue. Such projects operate in a liminal space, one which provides a glimpse of the Palestinian unseen, and as such consideration of the ethics of the visual image, particularly in terms of their portrayal of Palestinian suffering to an Israeli audience, should be considered.
Simon Faulkner also discussed Khaled Hourani and Rashid Masharawi’s documentary film Picasso in Palestine (2012), the culmination of a project which bought Picasso’s painting Buste de Femme (1943) to a purpose built exhibition space in Ramallah. The film follows the processes involved in the transportation of a famed work of art. The series of administrative and institutional hurdles that must be overcome in the ‘real world’ where such undertakings occur regularly, the customs, the security, the insurances, are intensified by Israeli Occupation as Palestine is an unrecognised state with no control over its own borders. The entire process associated with the displaying of the painting in turn informed Hourani’s practice and he essentially managed to overcome the Occupation, albeit briefly. This project brings to mind Omar al-Qattan’s a short documentary film entitled Diary of an Art Competition (Under Curfew) (2003) which saw a group of artists in Ramallah curate a group exhibition during the ‘Second Intifada’3 despite IDF curfews. A number of Gazan artists also participated in the exhibition, submitting their work via diplomatic pouches as they were prohibited from travelling. Both projects resulted in engaging filmic works which circumvent and challenge the restrictions of Occupation.
 Gil Z. Hochberg, Visual Occupations: Violence and Visibility in a Conflict Zone (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2015), p. 163.
2 ‘About Us’, <http://www.activestills.org/about.php> [accessed 15/05/2016
3 The ‘Second Intifada’ or ‘uprising’ was an extended period of intensified violence in Israel/Palestine categorised by an attempted Palestinian uprising against Israeli Occupation.
Hochberg, Gil Z., Visual Occupations: Violence and Visibility in a Conflict Zone (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2015)
Weizman, Eyal, Hollow Land (London: Verso, 2007)